The joy of cooking
...Let them have cake!

I love cooking food from all over the world and try to cook as often as I can. Good food does not have to be pretentious, not in my opinion. I am not good at baking, and my wife and kids own that part :)

Recipe: Aloo Gobhi

Based on my experience with Indian restaurants in the US, a popular entrée is Aloo Gobi, or combinations of Alu/Aloo (potato) and Gobi/Gobhi (cauliflower).

The preparation commonly found is easier to assemble and more difficult to mess up than the authentic Punjabi version I grew up with. I like my recipes simple, and in Aloo Gobi, I intend for the taste of cauliflower and ginger to stand out. My version has no sauce, garlic, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, onions and tomatoes. One of the most wonderful things about cooking is that there are no hard rules and whatever any one geneation eats joins the canon: it is as simple as that.

Utensils

Ideally, you need a seasoned cast iron wok-shaped utensil with a lid. A non-stick pot would work as well. In the preparation of this dish, please avoid corn oil, butter or other cooking fats that have a low smoking point. Canola oil is satisfactory, but not vegetable oil.

Ingredients

  1. 1 medium-sized cauliflower
  2. 3 white/boiling potatoes diced into 3/4-in cubes
  3. 2 tbsp chopped ginger
  4. 2 tbsp sunflower/safflower oil OR clarified butter/ghee.
  5. A pinch of turmeric (for color)
  6. 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  7. 1 tbsp salt
  8. 1/2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground)
  9. 1 tbsp chopped cilantro [optional]

Preparation

  1. Wash the cauliflower, pat it dry, and break it into small florets about half the size of a golf ball. Discard the stems, or if you want to use them, peel the skin off of them.
  2. Peel and dice the potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes
  3. Heat the oil in the wok at medium-high heat for about a minute, and then drop the cauliflower florets in. Add a pinch of turmeric and toss for 3-4 minutes to coat the florets evenly with oil.
  4. Drop in the potatoes, ginger and spices, and toss for 3-4 minutes to coat the potatoes with oil as well. The goal is to evenly coat the vegetables with a thin layer of oil, so they would not burn, and get dry-braised.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook covered for 10 minutes. Note that depending on your utensil and heat source, cauliflower may brown in 10 minutes. In general, use medium-low heat when using a utensil that retains heat (such as a cast iron pot) and medium heat when cooking in a utensil that loses heat fast (such as Aluminum).
  6. Stir once. There should be no burning of the cauliflower at this stage. Reduce the heat to low, and cook covered for 15 minutes.
  7. If the cauliflower does not yield readily to bite, cook covered on low heat for another 5 minutes.
  8. When the cauliflower yields to a bite (you don't want it to be mushy), turn off the heat, sprinkle chopped cilantro, replace the lid, and leave the utensil covered for another 5 minutes. If using a heavy cast iron utensil, leave the lid slightly ajar.
Making good Aloo Gobi where cauliflower florets and potatoes hold their shape and are cooked perfectly takes practice, and a lot of it. I think my grandmother makes it better than I do, since she has a much better sense of when food is done and does not need to poke around with her spatula or turner. That's the consistency borne of tradition: same utensil, same amount, same ritual: just like the bakers of past who were renowned to bake best baguettes. Just the right amount of draft when rising and the right amount of water in the right kind of oven.

Indian food is not just sauces!

One often hears that all Indian food is a variation on curry. Curry in this sense stands for meat and/or vegetables in a red/orange/yellow thick viscous liquid aka sauce. As is true of any cuisine with some history, the truth is more complex. Let's take a look at one of the ways one can cook Indian dishes without a sauce base, in any case any sauce that's more than what coats the back of the spoon, as they say.

Three Stages of Cooking an Indian Dish

An art in Indian cooking is braising. Braising is a cornerstone of Chinese cuisine as well, and basically means cooking meat or vegetables with small and variable amount of liquid. A lot of Indian dishes are prepared this way. There are three stages of cooking. The typical Indian pot for cooking this kind of food is called a Karahi or Kadai which unsurprisingly is very similar to the Chinese Wok.

  1. First one sears the vegetables or meat at very high heat (presumably locking the flavor in, but the jury is out (cf. Harold McGee's masterpiece On Food and Cooking) to give them a firmer texture.
  2. After the initial searing, you cover and cook on medium heat for another ten minutes. As you cook your dish covered, the steam does not escape and water or other juices materialize at the bottom of the pan.
  3. Finally the heat is reduced to low until the dish is finished. One reason behind reducing the heat is to retain the moisture and liquid. The end result is more flavorful than steamed vegetables -- a unique blend of crisp outside and succulent inside.
Heat Transfer in Cooking

Since heat is passed by convection in a liquid, which results in slower transfer of heat, it is very forgiving. Braising is not always forgiving. You can burn the food in the first step, or make the food mushy if you're not careful. Many, even those familiar with it, avoid making braised foods for the additional effort and practice it requires. On the other hand, you can toss everything at once in a fair bit of liquid and reduce and cook at the same time with little other demands of checking in regularly.

Summary

Good food takes effort, no matter which culture you consider. French food takes a lot of effort because it is often prepared from scratch. Same about Persian Food. And it is the same about Indian food.